Contributed by by Mackenzie Crisp, MPH

We are heading into one of the most festive and joyful times of the year with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s just around the corner. Families come together at the table with extravagant feasts, companies throw holiday parties, old friends come to town, the streets are glowing with lights, and stores are filled to the brim with gifts to buy and treats to eat.

Along with this endless array of holiday celebrations come the party favors and the liquid libations – hard apple cider, mulled wine, eggnog, and champagne punch, just to name a few. With so many occasions to celebrate, it is no secret that intake of alcohol escalates during this time of year.

While the holidays are often hailed as the most wonderful time of the year, they can also be the cause of much stress and anxiety. There are parties to plan, meals to prep, guests to play host to, and relatives who drive us crazy.

For people with a limited social network or for those who have lost loved ones, the holidays can be an extremely lonely and sad time. In order to combat, or at least ameliorate, the impact that holidays can have, many people indulge in seasonal binge-drinking.

Binge drinking is defined as having more than four drinks in a two-hour span for women and more than five drinks in a two-hour span for men. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends men drink no more than four drinks in one sitting and women drink no more than three drinks in one sitting.

With alcohol free flowing at most holiday gatherings, the temptation to overindulge can become unavoidable, especially since alcohol acts as a stimulant, making people feel uninhibited, upbeat and excited.

Unfortunately, overindulging in alcohol can lead to reckless decisions and life-altering consequences. As a person consumes more alcohol, reaction time suffers and behavior becomes poorly controlled – leading to arguments, fights, abusive behavior, and inappropriate interactions with colleagues. Continued drinking slurs the speech and acts as a depressant, making the drinker sleepy, and in some cases, can cause the drinker to pass out.

The loss of motor skills is especially dangerous when partygoers choose to drink and drive. More highway deaths related to alcohol occur during the holidays than at other times of the year. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, during the holiday season, an estimated 300 Americans are killed in drunk-driving accidents annually.

These deaths and ill consequences of binge drinking can be prevented. It is possible to be truly present at holiday events without drinking or abusing alcohol. It is important to set limits at social engagements and to plan ahead for the evening. For party goers who are recovering addicts or who struggle with alcohol abuse, it is important to have an escape plan that enables you to leave when you feel tempted or have over-indulged. Ask a trusted friend to serve as a sober buddy at parties to help keep you on track. Letting someone who you trust at holiday events know you may need additional help or support during this season is also a good idea, as is coming up with a standard response as to why you are not drinking.

For the average party goer, some healthy guidelines include:

  • Limit alcohol consumption to one drink per hour.
  • Cut yourself off an hour before the party is scheduled to end.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Stop serving alcohol to guests who have had plenty.
  • Leave gatherings if you start to feel uncomfortable.
  • Be choosy about the events you attend.
  • Find new holiday activities that do not involve alcohol.
  • Seek help from loved ones and trusted friends if you are having a hard time.

Although the holidays present many opportunities for alcohol consumption, it is possible to enjoy the holidays without over-consumption. If you choose to indulge in holiday beverages, remember to set limits, drink responsibly, and seek help if needed.